POLICE searches are being carried out on farmland and buildings in the Highlands in connection with a series of raptor deaths – as a reward for information about the illegal killings rose to more than £26,000.
A total of 19 birds of prey – 14 red kites and five buzzards – are now at the centre of a poisoning probe after their carcasses were found in a two-square-mile area south-east of Conon Bridge, Ross-shire. Post-mortem examinations carried out on 12 of the birds – nine red kites and three buzzards – confirmed they were poisoned, police said.
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said further reported discoveries have not yet been linked to the investigation, but may later become part of their inquiries.
She added: “Police are currently conducting searches in the Conon Brae area as part of ongoing inquiries into a wildlife crime investigation regarding the death of birds of prey. Landowners in the area are co-operating with the searches.”
Yesterday, police wearing blue protective gloves began searching farmhouses, outbuildings, barns and bins.
The development comes as the reward for information leading to a conviction over the deaths rose further.
Members of Scottish Land and Estates and the NFUS farmers’ union, which has condemned the killings – branded the most serious wildlife crime in recent years – offered an additional £12,000 to an appeal for information. Their pledge takes the total reward to more than £26,000.
The death toll for the birds of prey has slowly risen from six a fortnight ago. That prompted an anonymous donor to come forward with an additional £5,000, while 160 members of the public have donated £4,000.
One of the landowners involved in collating the reward is Alex Matheson, from the Brahan Estate, which operates the Tollie Red Kites centre in partnership with the RSPB.
He said: “We have been appalled by these tragic and senseless bird deaths. By pulling together as a community to do all we can to help, we want to send a strong and clear message that any form of wildlife crime is
NFUS regional board chairman for the Highlands, Jim Whiteford, said: “This is a horrifying and disgusting incident.”
And Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management for RSPB Scotland, said: “We welcome the pledge by local farmers and landowners. The illegal killing of these birds has disgusted many in the local community and beyond and we hope that by working together, we can identify those responsible and help to eliminate wildlife crime.”
Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, said the reward being offered by farmers and landowners demonstrated a determination by local communities to help police gather all the information they can about the birds- of-prey deaths.
The investigation is being carried out by police in close collaboration with partner agencies RSPB, the Scottish SPCA, Scotland’s Rural College, and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture.